Today's strolling menus are less appetizers and more “mini meals,” notes Kelly Early, CSEP, general manager and owner of Indianapolis-based Thomas Caterers of Distinction. Here, catering experts explain how to keep guests sated, social and happy with these tips on serving strolling menus — from what to offer to how to dispose of trash.
AT YOUR SERVICE
All the pros agree good service is essential with strolling menus, but opinions differ on the proper way to provide it. Josh St. Aubin, senior manager of culinary events and promotions with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in Woodinville, Wash., puts out fewer staffers for strolling menus because there's no sit-down dinner setup. Early, on the other hand, uses roughly the same number of staff for both strolling and sit-down events.
Servers also act as hosts at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, where they ensure guests are having a good time. Early notes that good communication skills are key for servers because guests are more likely to ask for details about food on a strolling menu than they are at a sit-down meal. Knowledgeable, articulate servers are especially important to chef Eun Jeong of Redondo Beach, Calif.-based Be Delicious because they must explain her Korean-accented dishes to guests who often haven't tasted Korean fare before.
Trash cans are an eyesore, but no one wants used martini glasses and pipettes crowding tables either. As Early says, “Trash gets everywhere: on the floor, on windowsills, in the restrooms.” Ste. Michelle Wine Estates keeps trash cans out of sight of partygoers, with servers whisking away disposables to toss behind the scenes. To avoid marring the event further, Thomas Caterers assigns servers to clearing duty and reminds them to look for trash beyond the tables. As an added measure, the catering company places tray jacks with trays throughout the event as spots for guests to dump debris.
Despite strolling menus' smaller portions, guests should never walk away hungry. Early represents all the courses of a meal with her strolling menus: salad, entree and dessert. In one instance, a client selected food items that weren't substantial enough even when grouped together in a menu. So Early added “the perfect little filling item”: cheese tortellini.
Early recommends making portions “as large as you can get them.” She adds, “There's nothing worse then standing by the door at the end of the evening and hearing the guests talking about where they are going to go for pizza because they are starving.”
WINE AND DINE
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates' executive chef Janet Hedstrom prepared these “easy-to-eat bites” for 1,000, Josh St. Aubin says. The menu was developed with wines in mind; St. Aubin touts Riesling as a food-friendly favorite.
Dungeness Crab Cakes with Thai Aioli and Mango Salsa
Tostadas with Orange-chipotle Prawns, Avocado Cream and Fire-roasted Salsa
Tandoori Pork Skewers with Orange-curry Yogurt Sauce
Seared Spiced Salmon, Sun-dried Tomato Aioli and Wild Mushroom Ragout Crostini
Rice Crackers with Seared Ahi, Wasabi and Pickled Ginger
Kalbi Beef Skewers with Peppers and Snow Peas
Assorted Small Pizzas
Gorgonzola, Red Wine-poached Pear and Caramelized Onion Crostini
Apricot Cilantro Chicken Wings
Spinach and Feta Phyllo
White Cheddar Gougere with Chicken, Apple and Hazelnut Salad
Eun Jeong of Be Delicious prepared this light menu of Korean-influenced dishes for a party of 520 where 50
percent of the guests did not have a Korean background. She often uses a bulgogi marinade, which is popular in Korean barbecue recipes, and prefers natural sweeteners such as cactus honey powder and agave nectar instead of white sugar. Jeong also alters her recipes slightly depending on the clientele, often tempering the spiciness of a dish for a non-Korean crowd and “bringing up the sweetness,” she says.
Red Pepper and Bulgogi Beef Rice Roll Skewers
Spicy Tuna Tartare in a Crispy Rice Cup
Spicy Bulgogi Pork Stuffed Mushrooms
Dried Persimmon Walnut Rolls
with Flattened Persimmons stuffed
with Walnut Filling
Pomegranate Panna Cotta
with a Red Wine Reduction Sauce
A FOUR-COURSE STROLL
Thomas Caterers of Distinction opted for both stationary and passed hors d'oevre at this 800-guest fête. The catering company determined a mixed presentation was best for a crowd of this size.
Passed Hors d'oeuvre
Pork Tenderloin Lollipops with Sweet Pepper and Roasted Garlic Glaze
Roasted Garlic Shrimp Pipettes with Savory Rosemary Brandy Sauce
Fontina Risotto Ball with Marinara Sauce
Made-to-order Salad Bar Station (with salads shaken in martini shakers)
Marinated Green Vegetable “Bloody Mary” Salad
Pears, Roquefort Cheese and Candied Walnut “Pear Martini” Mesclun Green Salad
Field Greens, Strawberries and Macadamia Nut “Strawberry Margarita” Salad
Vertical Display Hors d'oeuvre Station
Gourmet Mini Burgers and Pommes Frites
Sesame Chicken Fingers with Apricot Sauce
Cheese Tortellini with Spinach, Leeks, Mushrooms and Alfredo Sauce
Mini Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Tomato Soup Shooters
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates
Thomas Caterers of Distinction